April 22 is Earth Day in the USA. Originally the date had been March 21 – the day usually given as that to the vernal equinox or the first day of spring. The vernal equinox is the day on which the sun crosses the celestial equator and the days in the northern hemisphere become longer and the days in the southern hemisphere become shorter.
American born John McConnell proposed the date in 1969 at a UNESCO conference. San Francisco proclaimed the first Earth Day in 1970. Ira Einhorn, (aka the Unicorn killer) another environmentalist and convicted murderer of his girl friend Holly Maddux was a participant in the 1970 Earth Day celebrations in Philadelphia and claimed to be the founder of Earth Day as well but his account is disputed.
Gaylord Nelson, a democratic senator (and later governor) from Wisconsin also is seen as the founder of Earth Day, although his role seems to have been to move the date to April 22 in 1970, a month after the Sam Francisco proclamation. His argument was that April 22 was a day on which schools would be open and could have Earth Day events, since it would never be during spring break or finals. Despite this, this year the public schools and City University of New York begin their spring break on April 22.
The move was considered suspicious by the US government since the 22 April 1870 was the birth-date of Vladimir Lenin and hence the first March 21st Earth Day was to be celebrated on the 100th anniversary of Lenin’s birth, which itself was being celebrated throughout the communist world. Nelson said he didn’t know when Lenin was born.
Despite all the questions about the founders of and the date of Earth Day, a number of Scots and hyphenated Scots (e.g. Scottish-Americans, Scottish-Australians, Scottish-Canadians etc.) have been heavily involved in environmental and conservationist issues
One of the earliest people involved with the ideas now associated with conservation and environmentalism is Rachael Carson (whose name at least is Scottish and Northern Irish although her own ethnicity is not easily found). Carson’s book Silent Spring which deals with the problems of pesticides is seen as the first main source of the environmental protection movement.
Another name to be reckoned with in this area is John Muir (April 21, 1838 – December 24, 1914), the Scottish American naturalist born in Dunbar East Lothian. When he was about 11, his family moved to the US and Muir ultimately became one of the early proponents of preserving the wilderness in the US. He was instrumental in preserving Yosemite Valley and Sequoyah National Park. He was also he founder of the Sierra Club, an important conservationist organization.
A number of places have been named for him. These include the 211-mile (340 km) hiking trail called John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada, The Muir Woods National Monument, Muir Beach, John Muir College, Mount Muir, Camp Muir and Muir Glacier. The Scots named a 130 mile long route John Muir Way, in his honor.
John Lorne Campbell, (1906–1996) a Scottish historian, environmentalist and folklorist born in Argyllshire is another well known Scottish environmentalist. Perhaps he is best known for having bought the island of Canna, south of Skye and farmed it and turned it into a refuge for wild life. He studied the migration of insects. In 1981 he gave the island to the National Trust for Scotland although he continued to live there with his wife until his death in his 101st year.
No discussion of Scots involved in environmental issues would be complete with mention of Glasgow born Robert Angus Smith (15 February 1817–12 May 1884) who dealt with environmental science – especially that of air pollution. He was a chemist and coined the term “acid rain” when he noted that the acidic precipitation could damage plants. He published his work Air and Rain: The Beginnings of a Chemical Climatology, in 1872.
Richard Balharry of Muirhear Dundee was another Scot involved in wildlife preservation. Je was appointed the warden of Britain’s first National Nature Reserve, Beinn Eighe National which has more than 10,000 acres of mountainous land. He was chair of the John Muir Trust, President of The Ramblers Society and was chair of the National rust for Scotland. He was awarded many honors including Royal Scottish Geographical Society's Geddes Environment medal in recognition of his outstanding contribution to conservation and an MBE or services to nature conservation.
While it is impossible to discuss all the Scots that have been involved in environmental work, David Whyte Macdonald CBE FRSE should be mentioned. In 1986 Macdonald founded and has been director of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation research unit. An active wildlife conservationist, he graduated from Oxford and is the university’s first Professor of Wildlife Conservation. He is noted for his research which makes practical use of basic fundamental biological materials and applying them to solving the problems involved in the conservation of wildlife and environmental management. He is the author of many works including his recent 2 part book Key Topics in Conservation Biology co edited with Katrina M. Service and published by Oxford University Press in 2006 and 2007. In addition to his writings he has popularized biology and its importance to wildlife conservation through films like Night of the Fox.
First Presbyterian Church’s Annual Scottish Heritage Service